Here to Help Learning is a methodical video writing curriculum with an emphasis on engagement. It's not a strictly instructional course, but is designed to make writing fun by engaging multiple parts of the brain, not simply sitting at a desk hunched over a notebook. Hands-on activities and writing-themed games are a feature of the course. That doesn't mean a large amount of prep time is required. Checklists for the items needed that day are shown at the beginning of each video, mostly items which can be found around the house.
Homeschooling mother-of-eight Beth Mora is an enthusiastic instructor, playing a variety of different roles in the videos, from air hostess to construction worker to game show host to intrepid reporter. An application section shows Mora teaching the lessons in real time to equally enthusiastic young students. Beyond that, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of writing, that it's "not just handwriting practice, but another way to think and communicate."
How Does it Work?
There are two multi-grade levels. The first, Paragraph Writing, is for grades 1-3, and the second, Essay Writing, is for grades 4-6. Both levels have three year long units, called "flights."
A "flight" has 32 lessons, divided into six projects about five to six lessons in length. Except for flight 3 of the Essay Writing level (which is a year long write-your-own book project) each level has five projects that are a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and one poetry section in which students write five poems of different genres. At the end of each project students will have a complete piece of writing.
The workbooks are in full color, and they take advantage of that fact with a bright layout and colorful info charts. The worksheets are tearable, meant to be placed in a three ring binder and divided into neat sections (assembling the binder is part of the first lesson in each flight.)
The teachers's guide contains equally colorful info charts along with detailed tips and scripts for guiding the student through the lessons, and tips on how to create a "culture of writing" to encourage student writers. It also contains the six course DVDs.
There's very little teacher prep beforehand. Instead, teachers are encouraged to watch the lessons along with their students and then participate on the other side as coaches and editors. Plenty of material is provided to help those teachers not as confident in their writing or editing skills, such as extensive grammar help sheets, and an editor handbook. Stress is placed on being an editor, not a grammar Nazi.
It's a multi-level program, so students of multiple ages can participate. Because of the looser requirements for writing projects, students can pretty much write to their level. In fact, this program is almost perfect for co-ops. The teaching examples are done in a co-op setting.
The writing process itself is straightforward, professional, and coherent. The nine step process (reinforced with hand motions in every lesson) includes three total drafts, and a chance to share finished writing ("publishing.") Grammar instruction is not included, except indirectly in the Language Helps Booklet. Mora recommends keeping grammar short and simple, and likes to use Rod & Staff English for the younger grades, and Easy Grammar for older children.
The program is explicitly Christian, ranging from a memory verse for each unit, to frequent reminders to make your writing "God honoring", and an admonition during each "pre-flight checklist" to check your attitude.
The production quality is fairly good, though Mora's enthusiasm can sometimes feel a bit corny (but never fake.) Essay Writing is a bit more student-directed and the filmed instruction talks down less for the older set. The filmed instruction takes its time—it's not strictly educational, but it's divided into chapter breaks and well labelled so teachers are able to skip if needed.
Our Honest Opinion:
Normally the creative writing bias would be a point against the program. But because it doesn't go above 6th grade, and because it is such a thorough, well thought out program this isn't such a big issue. As long as essay writing is well-supplemented in the older grades, a child should be able to get on just fine.
Beth Mora's program is not only designed to make an oft-maligned subject "fun" but also to promote writing as a way of interacting with and thinking about the world. She presents tools for creating a "culture of writing" and has an obvious respect for the subject and desire to translate that respect to young writers. By encouraging children to write "early and often" and minimizing opportunities for competition and shame, she hopes to spark a long lasting love for writing. This seems to be an effective, solid, confidence building way to do just that.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
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